The Best Way to Deadlift: Squat-Stance Deadlift
By Dr. Joel Seedman, PhD
KEY POINT #1: The squat-stance deadlift is the most natural, safe, and effective deadlift technique for a majority of lifters.
KEY POINT #2: The squat stance deadlift is very conducive for strength and hypertrophy as it typically allows the lifter to handle the heaviest loads with the safest mechanics.
KEY POINT #3: Ed Coan used a very similar technique (semi sumo or modified sumo deadlift) with great success. There’s no reason why you can’t do the same.
Sumo or conventional deadlift – which is better? Anyone in the iron game has heard this question a thousand times and this debate will most likely continue for ages.
What most lifters fail to understand is that although the sumo and conventional deadlift are the two most common pulling techniques, performing a deadlift does not have to be confined only to those two methods.
In fact a pulling method I frequently use with my athletes is the squat-stance deadlift which represents a variation that falls somewhere in between the sumo and conventional techniques. In many cases the squat-stance deadlift allows the lifter to pull with the strongest, safest, and most efficient biomechanics.
Conventional and Sumo Deadlift Overview
It’s long been established that the conventional and sumo deadlift each have their own pros and cons. In fact it can take months for a lifter to determine which variation matches up best with their body type as the technique and targeted muscles for each is unique.
The conventional deadlift while having the largest range of motion tends to place greater shear force on the spine due to the more bent over torso position. However, this also makes it more conducive for eliciting muscular hypotrophy. Taller lifters with longer legs tend to find this method more challenging due to both biomechanical and mobility restrictions. Although this variation relies more on brute force and raw strength, anything less than perfect form can spell disaster for low back health and spinal integrity.
The sumo deadlift on the other hand falls on the opposite end of the spectrum. With the ultra wide stance this technique tends to feel somewhat unnatural particularly when first learning the lift. However the ability to keep the bar closer to the center of mass, combined with a smaller range of motion and more upright torso position tends to make the variation safer on the spine. However, these elements tend to make it less conducive for those looking to gain hypertrophy particularly throughout the musculature of their back.
Finally, the ultra wide stance and significant toe flare typically employed on the sumo deadlift can create inflammation in the hips as well as promote dysfunctional and unnatural lower body mechanics. The squat-stance deadlift essentially combines the benefits from both the sumo and conventional deadlift while eliminating the inherent weaknesses of each.
TRAP BAR DEADLIFT VS. SQUAT-STANCE DEADLIFT
The benefits of the squat stance deadlift are similar to those associated with the trap bar particularly factors dealing with safety and natural body mechanics. In fact trap bar deadlifts and squat stance deadlifts are the two primary pulling variations I use with my clients. However, the squat stance deadlift tends to transfer even more so to improving one’s actual squat strength due to the similar body mechanics.
It also tends to promote greater hypertrophy in the lower body compared to trap bar deadlifts due to the slightly greater stretch and larger joint angles witnessed in the hips and thighs. Although a similar stretch can be achieved with the trap bar by using the lower handles, this often times presents further challenges to those with mobility issues as the close stance prohibits proper mechanics at that depth. However this is rarely an issue in the squat stance deadlift as the open hip mechanics and wider base allow the deeper position to be more easily achieved.
In addition, if you’re a powerlifter or considering competing, at some point you’ll be forced to become accustomed to an Olympic barbell as you obviously can’t use a trap bar apparatus in official competition settings. The squat stance deadlift allows those who prefer the trap bar mechanics to perform deadlifts with an Olympic barbell without foregoing the safety features they’ve become accustomed to on the trap bar.
SQUAT-STANCE DEADLIFT | 5 Key EXECUTION Points
When it comes to proper execution of the squat-stance deadlift the position and mechanics should feel very simple and natural. If you were going to pick up a heavy kettlebell, stone, or any heavy object off the floor this is the position/technique you would most likely assume. To executive the squat stance deadlift properly you must remember to concentrate on five key areas, specifically (1) foot positioning, (2) stance, (3) hand placement, (4) hip, torso, and knee positioning, and (5) the pull.
Execution Point #1: Foot Positioning
For the squat-stance deadlift, foot positioning is key. Unlike the sumo deadlift where the feet tend to rotate outwards in excess of 45 degrees, the feet should be kept relatively straight (0-10 degrees of toe flare) for the squat stance deadlift. This is one of the major modifications I suggest that’s different from the semi-sumo deadlift used by Ed Coan as he also had significant toe flare. Although the exaggerated toe flare may initially feel like a quick fix for increasing deadlift strength, the long-term effects on hip function are undesirable to say the least.
In fact many powerlifters who use an excessive toe flare on the squat or sumo deadlift end up destroying their natural lower body mechanics. Because their feet and hips have spent so much time in excessive external rotation this becomes their go-to movement strategy for any lower body movement including walking and overall gait mechanics. In fact when you examine the walking gait of many powerlifters they look like an overstuffed cowboy from the wild west who just got off a marathon horse back ride as their hip mechanics are aberrant to say the least.
Over time this can lead to a variety of lower body impairments and pain-related syndromes including chronic hip inflammation. In reality once the lifter learns how to activate their feet and ankles properly, the relatively straight foot position (0-10 degrees of flare) will actually produce the greatest strength increases. Rather then allowing the feet to passively settle on the floor (a very common by-product of excessive external rotation), keeping the feet relatively straight and pushing the knees out transmits the greatest foot and ankle torque into the floor ultimately maximizing fore production. This is something Kelly Starrett has discussed in regards to squatting, however the same principles apply to other lower body movements including the deadlift.
Furthermore because activation starts with the feet, the greater the innervation signals from the foot and ankle complex up through the kinetic chain, the greater the muscle activation not only in the legs but also throughout the entire body.
Simply put, unless you’re an aspiring ballerina performer, a relatively straight foot position (0-10 degrees toe flare) is something that should be used on nearly all exercises including the squat stance deadlift (as well as other deadlift or squatting variations) regardless of individual differences in anthropometrics. That’s because it helps to promote the most functional, natural, and athletic body mechanics. Additionally, it maximizes foot and ankle activation, which is critical for overall movement mechanics as it increases neural signaling and body alignment throughout the kinetic chain.
In reality once the lifter learns how to activate their feet and ankles properly, the relatively straight foot position (0-10 degrees of flare) will actually produce the greatest strength increases. If it feels unnatural it’s because your feet and ankles are weak and dysfunctional and therefore need to be trained with appropriate neuromuscular re-education techniques. This is a topic that should not be overlooked (which it commonly is) as I’ve seen this make or break functional movement patterns in my own athletes and clients. Learn more about proper foot and ankle mechanics in my book The Ultimate Foot and Ankle Manual.
EXECUTIon POINT #2: Stance
Use a position that falls anywhere between a normal squat stance (approximately shoulder width), to roughly 20% wider than shoulder width. In general the feet will range from 2 -3 feet apart (when measuring from the outside of the feet). This position will provide the greatest pressing strength from the legs while eliminating hip irritation produced from using an excessively wide stance.
EXECUTIon POINT #3: Hand Placement
Similar to a sumo deadlift the arms and grip should be placed in between the legs to create a feeling of straddling the barbell. It should feel as though bar is positioned between the feet and legs rather than in front of them. With this in mind the grip will be anywhere from roughly 1-2 feet apart. The key is making sure the arms can fit between the legs without running into the knees. For those who choose to take a slightly narrower stance, a portion of the hands may actually be inside the knurling on the smooth portion of the bar. As long as grip strength is sufficient this shouldn’t be an issue.
On a side note don’t be surprised if visually it appears as though your elbows have a slight bend in them when performing this variation. This is more of an illusion as the closer grip can give the appearance that the lifter is pulling with the arms. They key is to focus on keeping the arms as straight as possible without letting the biceps get involved. Think of your arms as hooks while letting the hips and legs do all the work.
EXECUTIon POINT #4: Hip, Torso, and Knee Positioning
The lower body mechanics will be nearly identical to a low-bar squat. Focus on pushing the knees out and keeping the hips pushed back as far as possible while still keeping the chest out. Focus on keeping a natural but not excessive arch throughout the spine while keeping the head in a neutral position.
The torso will be bent over to approximately 45 degrees which maximizes the ability to cock the hips back fully at the bottom (hip flexion) while minimizing sheer stress on the spine. This ideal position seen in the squat-stance deadlift is something that cannot be duplicated with either the sumo or conventional pull. The reason for this is based on simple biomechanical analyses of hip function.
The farther back the hips set at the beginning of the pull the more the lifter can rely on powerful hip extension mechanics to perform the lift which is generally a positive factor. However, this typically requires a more bent over torso position as witnessed with the conventional deadlift which unfortunately places greater shear stress on the spine.
The sumo deadlift while easier on the spine minimizes the “cocked back” hip hinge position as the ultra wide stance and extreme external rotation of the feet essentially pushes the hips forward at the bottom of the pull. This curtails the lifter’s ability able to coil the hips back to their most flexed position inevitably minimizing the sling shot effect of the hips on the concentric phase. In contrast, the squat-stance deadlift allows the lifter to pick and choose the best mechanics of the sumo and conventional pulls while disregarding the negative features previously mentioned. The 45-degree bent-over torso position does just that.
EXECUTIon POINT #5: The Pull
After pre-loading the musculature by pulling slack out of the bar, focus on locking the spine tightly into position by squeezing the daylights out of your lats. Unfortunately, most individuals have difficulty wrapping their head around the idea of flexing their lats on deadlifts as pulling their shoulder blades down and back throughout the movement can feel awkward to near impossible at times.
However, this is often a result of the deadlift mechanics not feeling natural or conducive to their body. The squat stance deadlift on the other hand feels extremely natural allowing the lifter to set their hips, spine, and lats very tightly from the beginning to the end of the movement. Besides significantly reducing the risk for injury, this also maximizes the total load the lifter can handle. In fact every athlete I’ve shown this deadlift variation to inevitably expresses how natural, strong, and simple the mechanics feel.
Does it Really Work - YOu Bet & Here's 6 Reasons Why
If you’re unsure as to whether or not the squat-stance deadlift is effective for pulling tremendously heavy loads, one need look no further than the legendary Ed Coan. Besides being considered one of the greatest powerlifters of all time, Ed Coan holds one of the most impressive raw max deadlift attempts ever with a 901 pound lift at a 220 pound bodyweight. Ed Coan utilized a deadlift technique very similar to the squat-stance method essentially turning the movement into a modified sumo or semi-sumo deadlift. Many powerlifters and strength athletes would benefit from taking a similar approach.
Reason #1: PROMOTES Squat and Deadlift Transfer
Many powerlifters who are proponents of the sumo deadlift argue that the carryover to the squat is much greater than the conventional deadlift as the sumo position is more similar to the mechanics used in a typical powerlifting squat. While this is by no means false, the squat-stance deadlift represents a technique and position that is not only similar but almost identical to a proper low bar squat.
Besides having incredible transfer (squat to deadlift and deadlift to squat), each time you train one you’re essentially training the other. This helps groove the proper neural pathways more efficiently as you’re essentially practicing the squat/deadlift patterns 2x as frequently.
REASON #2: Allows for Ideal Squat Mechanics
The-squat stance deadlift is a movement I use frequently with my athletes not only to improve their deadlift but also to improve their squat mechanics. Because the lifter can set their position and hips at the bottom before they initiate the lift (something you can’t do with a loaded squat) this allows them to find the ideal body mechanics without fear of having the weight bury them at the bottom. This is similar to the Anderson squat (bottoms-up squat) where the lifter drives the weight up from safety pins set at the bottom of a squat position.
REASON #3: Works for Everyone
Roughly 90% of the athletes and lifters I teach the squat-stance deadlift to end up using this method as their go-to deadlift technique. The other 10% while feeling more comfortable with the sumo or conventional deadlift they’ve become accustomed to over the years inevitably end up incorporating the squat-stance deadlift into their training as a means of increasing their overall strength, size, and movement mechanics.
Even if you still prefer the more traditional deadlift variations for competition or PR attempts, adding the squat-stance deadlift into your training routine will undoubtedly produce gains in both your squat and deadlift PR’s.
REASON #4: Ensures No Sticking Points
Unlike the conventional deadlift, which has a sticking point near the top of the movement, and the sumo deadlift which has a sticking point near the beginning of the pull, the squat-stance deadlift has more even tension throughout. As a result there is no significant sticking point, which allows for a smooth yet powerful motion.
REASON #5: TEACHES PROPER SQUAT DEPTH
When using standard 45lb weight plates, the bottom position of a squat-stance deadlift happens to be nearly perfect squat depth (between 90 degrees and parallel) for most individuals. Because the movement is de-loaded at the bottom, this allows the individual to find their ideal squat mechanics before pulling the load. Besides enhancing deadlift strength and mechanics this reinforces proper squat depth by teaching individuals to avoid collapsing while setting the hips back.
Reason #6: INflicts Less Muscle Trauma
Don’t be surprised if your able to perform squat-stance deadlifts with much greater frequency and volume than conventional or sumo variations. This is in large due to the natural mechanics not only being less abrasive on the body but actually being therapeutic as the technique promotes optimal movement while helping to eliminate dysfunction.
Master the Squat Stance Deadlift | 9 Variations
Variation #1: Negative Accentuated Deadlifts and Hypertrophy
Most powerlifters would cringe at the idea of performing negative accentuated deadlifts and rightly so. The sumo and conventional deadlifts are not conducive for using accentuated negatives as the body is not in an ideal position to absorb force during lengthening contractions. It’s for this very reason that most coaches and elite lifters are now recommending lifters let the weight free-fall on the negative phase of the deadlift in order to avoid stress on the spine and hips.
Because eccentric motions are one of the most potent stimuli for promoting functional strength and size gains, this free-fall maneuver unfortunately short-changes the strength and hypertrophy benefits of the deadlift. Ironically deadlift numbers amongst powerlifters has more or less plateaued over the last decade with many of the deadlift records from the early 80’s and 90’s still standing to this day including that of Ed Coan in 1991.
However, squat and bench press numbers have steadily progressed over the years with most records being set well within the last decade. Although some of this due to the advancements in training gear and equipment (which tends to have a bigger impact on the bench press and squat), much of this plateau in deadlift records can be attributed to eccentric muscle actions being rarely implemented on this lift. The trend is similar in both raw and geared sanctions.
Although the big 3 lifts (squat, bench press, and deadlift) each rely heavily on technique and neuromuscular efficiency, the nature of the deadlift lends itself more to brute force and raw strength than any of the other movements. Let’s face it; powerlifters will spend years perfecting their squat and bench press form/efficiency, tweaking even the most minute detail to promote small yet continuous gains in strength.
Deadlifts on the other hand typically involve less of these subtle adjustments with the emphasis being more so on maintaining fairly strict form while pulling as much weight as humanly possible. With this in mind once motor unit recruitment peaks out on the deadlift (which can occur relatively quickly in comparison to other lifts) the only factor that will drive significant impact on deadlift numbers will be strength and hypertrophy gains in the targeted muscles. More specifically this requires increased cross-sectional area of the involved musculature resulting from myofibrillar hypertrophy (functional size gains in structural protein) rather than sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (fluid gains). Although some of this can be accomplished by performing assistance exercises, nothing can match the specificity of gaining muscle mass from the very lift you’re focused on mastering.
The squat-stance deadlift provides this very stimulus in a safe and effective manner as the movement is very conducive for performing eccentric motions due its extremely natural and familiar position. In fact the negative/lowering phase is nothing more than the eccentric portion of a squat, which every lifter should be more than accustomed to. In reality if you don’t have the capability to control the negative/eccentric phase whether it’s that of a deadlift or any other movement you probably have no business using the amount of weight your handling.
Even if for some reason the squat-stance deadlift does not allow you to demonstrate maximal strength I can guarantee it will stimulate more strength and size gains than any other deadlift technique particularly when combined with controlled negatives. Furthermore these size gains will occur equally throughout the whole body including the quads, glutes, and hamstrings as well the lower, middle, and upper back.
Variation #2: Accommodating Resistance
Using accommodating resistance on squat stance deadlifts (or any other movement) allows the lifter to handle incredibly heavy loads at the top of the movement as the bottom is relatively deloaded compared to the finishing position. Besides decreasing strain to the spine and improving deadlift mechanics, the hypertrophy stimulus this has on the entire body particularly when combined with squat stance deadlifts is potent to say the least.
Here’s one of my powerlifting and bodybuilding athletes demonstrating it with chains with a total load of approximately 600 lbs at the top position.
You can also use the reverse band technique to provide accommodating resistance as the bands provide more assistance at the bottom of the movement allowing greater than normal total loading to be incorporated on the lift. Here’s one of my 60 year-old clients demonstrating it.
This is an example of how the squat stance deadlift is conducive not only for powerlifters and athletes but for lifters of all ages due to the safe and natural mechanics. In fact I have few if any of my clients 45 years and older perform pulls from the floor with anything but the squat stance deadlift as it provides the greatest benefit with minimal risk.
Band resistance is another form of accommodating resistance that's particularly useful for applying to squat stance deadlifts as demonstrated by another one of my awesome clients Charlene Harrison.
The band resistance helps emphasize acceleration through the top of the lift while simultaneously deloading the bottom (the most difficult position) and overloading the top position (typically the strongest position). Band resisted deadlifts are also excellent for reinforcing proper deadlift mechanics while also working on speed and power output.
On a side note, notice the methodical setup Charlene uses above. When it comes to proper deadlift mechanics one of the most important factors is something I refer to as the "set and re-set” technique. Notice how she treats each rep as it’s own individual set (multiple sets of 1) rather than approaching the set as a specific number of reps that run together. In addition she methodically sets her spine and deliberately pulls slack out of the bar each and every rep. Besides maximizing strength, functional hypertrophy, and deadlift performance, this also happens to ensure optimal safety of the deadlift as it optimizes structural integrity of the spine and places all of the tension on the targeted musculature.
VARIATION #3: Negative Accentuated Speed Deadlifts
One of the most effective methods for quickly gaining technical and neuromuscular efficiency in the squat-stance deadlift is to perform speed reps using 50-70% of your 1RM combined with accentuated eccentric motions. The lighter load will assist the lifter in cleaning up their technique and is very conducive for learning how to perform controlled negatives on deadlifts. I use this variation frequently with my athletes to ingrain the proper neural pathways.
VARIATION #4: Eccentric Isometric Squat-Stance Deadlifts
Perhaps the most advanced yet effective method for improving deadlift strength and mechanics is performing eccentric isometrics on squat-stance deadlifts. This method is also highly potent for stimulating full body hypertrophy as the intensity of contractions in the lengthened position combined with constant tension and occluded stretch make this a difficult combination to beat in terms of mass building techniques.
Furthermore the eccentric isometric allows the lifter to fine-tune their body position and movement mechanics as emphasizing the stretch promotes increased sensory feedback from muscle spindles and other proprioceptive mechanisms.
Similar to the speed deadlift variation you’ll want to start off by using 50-70% of your 1RM and progress from there. For most individuals you’ll need to elevate yourself several inches on a box or plates in order to allow for full range of motion in the stretched position. Focus on lowering your body slowly during the eccentric while feeling for optimal positioning. This will help you find the natural stopping point at the bottom. You’ll then hold this position for several seconds to reinforce these ideal mechanics into your central nervous system. As long as you don’t collapse, the range of motion should only be 1-3 inches below what you would typically go to when touching the floor. The goal is natural not excessive range of motion.
Similar to the negative accentuated variations, the squat stance deadlift is the only deadlift method that can safely and effectively be performed in conjunction with eccentric isometrics. The sumo and conventional deadlift are not conducive to eccentric isometrics as the body is in a compromised position for absorbing force during lengthening contractions.
VARIATION #5: Double Pause Gliding Deadlift
This one’s a doozy but very effective for improving squat stance deadlift mechanics. I stole the standard kettlebell variation of this deadlift technique from Tony Gentilcore and Mike Perry. To make it more intense I recently modified it by adding chains to the upper back and traps as a means of creating greater overload particularly for my larger athletes. Essentially you're pausing 1-2 inches off the floor on both the concentric and eccentric portion of the lift. Pausing in the concentric phase teaches excellent pulling mechanics and really reinforces the idea of keeping a rigid spine and tight lats without letting the hips shoot up or the chest drop over. The hold at the bottom position is essentially an eccentric isometric that promotes proprioception, hypertrophy, hip mobility, motor control, and proper squatting mechanics.
Besides crushing the legs, core, back, and shoulders, it also promotes proper breathing patterns due to the frequent isometric holds which, combined with the loading from the chains on the upper torso elevates heart rate and breathing. On a side note as you watch the video below you'll notice the loading is by using kettlebells of different weight. This is to further increase core stability. This is also why he switches directions mid-way through the set to target each side equally.
If you're looking for a deadlift or squat variation to improve technique as well as a movement that acts as a high intensity conditioning tool, this one fits the bill. Here I have NFL defensive end Jarius Wynn performing it to prepare him for the demands of the season.
You can also choose to be more civilized and perform the double pause gliding/hover deadlift with a standard barbell as shown by some of my collegiate athletes.
VARIATION #6: Squat-Stance Eccentric Isometric Deadlifts with Dumbbells
This is an awkward and difficult yet highly effective deadlift/squat variation for improving deadlift and squat strength as well as mechanics especially for the squat-stance deadlift. Once you go back to normal squats and deadlifts, form and technique will feel more locked in than ever.
Due to the high difficulty of the movement you'll want to start with half your body weight then move up gradually to handling bodyweight on this movement (a 200 lb. individual would use 100 lb. dumbbells for a total of 200 pounds). It's a bit tricky but worth trying. Treat it just like the other deadlift variations listed in this article however you’ll be pausing at the bottom position in an eccentric isometric (without touching the floor).
Another added benefit of this deadlift variation is the lifter is forced to powerfully extend their hips at the top in order to snap the weight onto their thighs as a means of re-setting in the start position.
VARIATION #7: 1.5 Squat Stance Deadlift Technique
The one and a half or 1.5 protocol has recently gained quite a bit of popularity due to its ability to enhance body mechanics and eliminate cheating. Applied to the squat-stance deadlift it teaches proper form, tightness, motor control, and provides incredible levels tension as it essentially eliminates momentum. Here’s one of my national level figure athletes using it to build mass and strength for her next competition.
VARIATION #8: Kettlebell Squat Stance Deadlift
If you’re looking for a very user-friendly variation of the squat-stance or semi sumo deadlift that’s very useful for teaching proper mechanics, the kettlebell squat-stance deadlift is the perfect fit. Not only is it very easy to teach and learn but it’s a great way to groove the proper squat-stance deadlift mechanics by using it as a warm-up or prep movement before going heavy.
VARIATION #9: Squat Stance Deadlift with Horizontal Band Resistance
If you’re looking for a sure-fire method to improve your deadlift mechanics then you’ll want to try adding horizontal band resistance. This is another one I stole from renowned strength coach Tony Gentilcore and simply applied it to the squat stance deadlift.
The horizontal band resistance promotes a very tight starting position essentially forcing the lifter to pull slack out of the bar. Anything but intense lat activation accompanied by scapular depression and retraction will make it nearly impossible to perform the movement as the bar will pull away from the lifter.
In addition activating the lats and squeezing the bar close to the body does wonders for enhancing spinal rigidity and proper postural mechanics – a key factor for proper deadlift mechanics.
Lastly, the unique horizontal pulling angle of the bands creates a slightly more upright torso position throughout the movement. As a result this one absolutely annihilates the quads.
A year ago I had a similar yet more abbreviated article published on T-Nation discussing the benefits of the squat-stance deadlift. Since that time I’ve literally had hundreds of people personally express to me either through email or social media the incredible results they’ve achieved by using the squat-stance deadlift as their primary method of pulling. Often times these individuals have contacted me with sincere gratitude and thanks for saving their deadlift career.
Not only has it allowed many lifters to perform the deadlift pain free (often times after years of struggling with injuries and inflammation associated with other deadlifting variations) but many lifters have reported hitting significant PR’s (5-10% increase) after only a few sessions of implementing the squat stance deadlift. Even if you’re a skeptic you owe it to yourself to at least give the squat stance deadlift a try as you have nothing to lose but potentially much to gain.